This tutorial on how to make unpasteurised butter is born of my passionate belief in the merits of unpasteurised dairy – I think that flavour and nutrition is superior in milk that has not been heated to boiling point. The misinformation campaign has been extensive when it comes to unpasteurised cheese and dairy, especially in the UK. Many people think that it is illegal, unsafe and dirty.
The British government and food standards agencies fought hard in the late eighties and early nineties to ban unpasteurised cheese, insisting that only food made with fully industrialised processes was safe to eat. They were ultimately unsuccessful, thanks to the efforts of a few activists such as Randolph Hodgson, Patrick Rance, James Aldridge and Humphrey Errington, who fought these changes at great personal cost. However, this ideology remains – the notion that only food that has been made by a machine, that has not touched human hands, can be clean.
We are feeling, as a society and as a nation, the great cost of this ideology. Britain and other countries that have placed processed, industrialised food at the heart of their diets suffer from a huge range of dietary health problems that cannot simply be explained by calorie intake. The food that much of this country now eats has been engineered in a lab, with uniformity, shelf-life and stability the overriding factors of production. Not flavour, not texture, not the complex balance of micronutrients and bacteria that natural food enjoys. Food that has been stripped of these volatile compounds and organisms can last for months on a supermarket shelf. But removing those properties radically changes the nutritional properties of the food.
I already seek out unpasteurised cheese wherever I can – to me it is clearly a better product. It is made with better raw ingredients, by artisans who have dedicated their lives to crafting cheese. And it tastes radically better. It is alive, literally, with layers of flavour and micronutrients that cannot exist in a pasteurised environment. But raw milk, cream and butter is harder to come by. Especially butter. There are one or two sources in the UK, but it is very expensive and has to be bought bulk, by mail order. I have a tiny kitchen, with a icebox freezer, so for me storing months of butter just isn't an option.
I live in Leeds, in beautiful Yorkshire, and I was thrilled to discover the nearby Emma's Dairy which makes gorgeous, organic, unpasteurised milk and cream delivered weekly to your door. I buy mine through The Organic Pantry, which delivers all across the north of England. But still butter eluded me, so I thought I'd investigate how to make unpasteurised butter myself. Turns out it's incredibly easy. Really. As long as you have a blender of some kind, all you need is cream, ice, water and about half an hour. It's a simple matter of blending cream until it splits into butterfat and buttermilk, then kneading the fat so make sure all the buttermilk has been released. The buttermilk, being wet, it what will quickly spoil your butter.
So now I make a batch every couple of weeks. Even my tiny little freezer in big enough for a few packs of butter. I keep it in the freezer because unpasteurised butter goes off more quickly than regular butter (all those live, excitable, yummy bacteria) especially if it's unsalted. This storage method also means it's less of an issue if there's a little buttermilk left in the butter after you've kneaded it. I personally found it quite hard to be completely sure that there was no buttermilk at all left behind.
Another great thing about learning how to make unpasteurised butter is you can flavour it in a wide variety of ways as you make it. Garlic and herbs are popular choices, but I went for Wild Peppercorn Butter and Pink Peppercorn Butter (as well as regular salted and unsalted) for this batch. I've also experimented with salt-cured mushrooms – delicious! The possibilities are endless...
One interesting thing about unpasteurised cream is that it changes in flavour and texture every single day. I had a batch that I thought had gone off, until I realised it had essentially turned into crème fraîche. This sour cream also made great butter, it was just different to the sweeter flavours of really fresh cream – tangy, tart, but still delicious. No doubt this has its limits, but I haven't reached that point yet.
It makes shaping the butter a lot easier if you have a set of wooden butter paddles, which you soak in ice water beforehand. Unbelievably, I had some on hand – that’s what happens when you spend you life cruising charity shops for vintage cooking paraphernalia. They stop the butter sticking to your hands as you shape it into pats and really are great for the task. Almost as if they'd been designed for it.
It’s important that you add the flavourings just before you shape the butter. I did try adding it to the cream – much easier I thought! – but when the cream splits into butterfat and buttermilk, all the flavour ends up in the buttermilk.
You can use the leftover buttermilk for a variety of applications – softening and curing halloumi (soak overnight), quick breads and other baked goods, pancakes and waffles, salad dressings and dips – the list goes on...
So source some raw dairy from a local farm, make a load of ice and get the blender going. That’s all that stands between you and the very, very best luxury unpasteurised butter, with incomparable flavour and natural nutrition.
Get some crusty sourdough ready for when you finish!
How to make butter
- 1 litre unpasteurised double/heavy cream makes 400g butter
- sea salt or other seasonings
- plenty of ice
- You can always improvise with equipment if necessary, but ideally you will need a blender, stand mixer or food processor, a clean cotton handkerchief, a sieve, two large bowls, a set of butter paddles, a spatula, paper towel, a knife, a chopping board, baking paper to wrap the butter and a jar for the leftover buttermilk.
- Make sure everything is nice and clean – I find the easiest way to do this is throw all the utensils in a dishwasher on hot (not the handkerchief/wooden utensils/baking paper).
- Fill one of the large bowls with cold water and add a couple of big handfuls of ice. Add the butter paddles to the ice water and leave to soak.
- Lay the sieve over the other large bowl and line it with the handkerchief.
- Add the cream to your food processor and blend on high until the cream splits into butterfat and buttermilk – this could take up to 10 minutes. Just keep blending, it will split eventually.
- Use the spatula to scrape the butterfat and buttermilk into the handkerchief and drain most of the buttermilk. Return the fat to the blender and beat for a few more seconds to remove more of the buttermilk. Drain again.
- Remove the butter paddles from the ice water and set aside. Add the butterfat to the ice water and knead the fat under the water for a minute or so to remove as much of the buttermilk as possible. Drain the water and refill with clean, cold water and more ice. Knead again to expel the last of the buttermilk.
- Remove the fat from the water and drain briefly on paper towels. Divide the fat into pieces with a knife – for this amount of cream I usually divide the fat into 4 small pieces (so the butter I defrost will be as fresh as possible when I eat it), weighing out about 100g per piece.
- To flavour the butter, transfer one piece of fat to the chopping board and sprinkle over the flavourings, to taste. Use the butter paddles to smear and blend the flavourings evenly into the fat, then shape the butter into a neat block. Repeat with the rest of the pieces of fat.
- Cut the baking paper into pieces large enough to wrap the blocks. Write the type of butter on each piece of paper (if you do this after you wrap, it’s very easy to pierce the paper). Wrap each block in paper, set one aside for the best snacking ever and freeze the rest. Or give it away if you’re feeling incredibly generous!